4. Yogurt: If you’re not lactose intolerant, yogurt can provide you with some protein and probiotics, which are live bacteria that may help the digestive system. Be sure to buy yogurt that says “live and active cultures” on the label, Szeles says. Avoid yogurt that contains large chunks of fruit, which could be hard to digest. “It’s fine if yogurt has fruit that’s soft, seedless, and blended in,” she adds.
5. Salmon: If you have ulcerative colitis and are lactose intolerant or simply want to get more protein in your diet, you can add salmon to the foods you can eat during a flare. It’s important to include protein in your diet that doesn’t come from red or processed meat, according to a study published in 2022 in the journal Nutrients. In addition to being a great source of protein, salmon has healthy omega-3 fatty acids that may help reduce inflammation. If you don’t like salmon, you can eat tuna, shrimp, or other fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Neilanjan Nandi, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of gastroenterology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, recommends baking, broiling, or sautéing salmon rather than frying it. “Frying fish causes it to lose a lot of its nutritional value,” he says.
6. Nut butters: Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, and other nut butters are another source of protein and healthy fats. Choose creamy peanut butter instead of chunky to avoid having to digest difficult nut pieces, which could cause further irritation during a flare. Try eating peanut butter on bread, Dr. Nandi advises, or spread it on a tortilla. Another good choice is nut butter on low-fiber crackers, such as saltines.
7. White rice with turmeric: If you can’t tolerate most foods during an ulcerative colitis flare, you may want to stick with bland choices, such as cooked white rice. If you want to add flavor, try sprinkling it with turmeric, a yellow spice whose key ingredient is curcumin. A meta-analysis published in 2021 in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that taking curcumin showed promising results for treating ulcerative colitis.
Turmeric is widely used in India, where the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease is lower than in the United States or Europe, says Arun Swaminath, MD, chief of gastroenterology and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
8. Water, sports drinks, and fruit juices: The diarrhea that often occurs during an ulcerative colitis flare can cause you to lose a lot of fluids, and replenishing them is important. “When you’re dehydrated, every symptom you have is amplified,” Nandi says. Sports drinks combined with water in a 1:1 ratio can help replace lost carbohydrates and electrolytes, he says. No-pulp fruit juice is also an option, Szeles says, but avoid prune juice because of its high fiber content.
“It’s important for people with ulcerative colitis to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized meal plan,” says Szeles. “This can help provide specific calorie and nutrient goals, since all bodies tolerate foods differently.”
Additional reporting by Nina Wasserman.